Jim O’Connor: from VU to top of Ford Motor Co.

Justin Runquist

Jim O’Connor’s prized 1957 T-Bird classic automobile reflects him quite well.

Like the vehicle’s polished black color with red interior, O’Connor is far from a typical senior executive. O’Connor has approached his work and his leadership in an extraordinary and exciting fashion. From his initial sales and marketing position at Ford Motor Company after completing his economics degree from the University to becoming one of the most senior executives at Ford, O’Connor has maintained a zest for work and strong system of values. He calls them his vital, few priorities.

Of them, loyalty might be the best quality about O’Connor. Like the classic car he has maintained for over 20 years, O’Connor proves that when he believes in something, he sticks with it. This is why O’Connor served as president of the Villanova Alumni Association in 1995.

His loyalty to the University also motivates him to contribute to Dean Monahan’s advisory council and frequently help with recruiting efforts on campus. To little surprise, O’Connor received the University’s prestigious Loyalty Award in 1995, which is the highest award given to an alumnus.

“Never change your values,” he emphasized. “I was fortunate to be accepted into this school and to have the opportunities I’ve been given here. I’m proud to say I have remained committed to Villanova.”

O’Connor has also remained loyal to his best friends and fellow graduates from the University, including Marty McGuinn, chairman and CEO of Mellon Bank, Richard McDonough, an officer at IBM and Jack Gahagan, a successful lawyer in New York. O’Connor is proud that their friendships have lasted long after their time together swimming and living in the Quad together at Villanova.

O’Connor, who is currently group vice president of North America Sales, Marketing and Service, truly has a passion for the people and organizations he associates himself with. From the 6,600 people that report to him from 13 different divisions to his genuine love for the cars he sells, O’Connor takes pride in all aspects of the Ford brand.

“Ford is a unique company because of its family values,” he said. “This June our company will turn 100 years old, and that is a tribute to our people’s passion for satisfying customers and driving for results.”

In his 40 years with Ford, O’Connor has developed plenty of leadership principles. One of his foremost priorities is to surround himself with good people.

“In order to be successful, you need to be a student of the business,” O’Connor said. “You really have to understand your product, competition, and especially the customer. Cars are an emotional purchase for people. They feel like their cars are a reflection of them. The business of selling automobiles is much, much more than simply moving a product from the production line to the showroom.”

According to O’Connor, the best salespeople are those who approach work and life with passion, integrity, honor, dignity and high standards. “There is no good way to do the wrong thing,” he said. “People should always take the high road. That, to me, is the road less traveled.”

Effective communication is absolutely essential for O’Connor, whether he is managing 6,600 people or conversing in his regular Monday meeting with Bill Ford, CEO of Ford Motor Co.

“I need to keep the message simple. By prioritizing work, people can then focus on the plan,” he said. “Once barriers of communication are lifted, we can better assess things like the competition and customer needs. Corporate red tape will only bog down people down with non-essentials. In business, you need to make a decision and go.”

O’Connor’s favorite quote comes from George Burns: “Fall in love with what you do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” O’Connor loves the unique aspects of his job. For example, he is responsible for product placement in movies, such as making sure the red Ford Thunderbird matched Halle Berry’s wardrobe in the latest James Bond film. He also oversees Ford racing and top-of-the-line automobiles such as Aston Martins, Jaguars and Land Rovers.

Fortunately, O’Connor loves what he does, but he emphasized the importance of keeping a work-life balance. He said that his mother, his wife of 35 years, two daughters, brother and family are his inspiration each day.

“No one gets things done themselves,” O’Connor said. “You need good people around you, whether it is friends, family or co-workers, to help you have the courage to fight to turn dreams into a reality.”